Former JuCo Teammates Seeking To Fill Secondary Voids

UABSPORTS.COM Adonis Armstrong
Adonis Armstrong

March 29, 2012

by Sam Hickman

Despite attending schools less than 15 miles apart, Adonis Armstrong and Godfrey Thompson didn't know each other until the final year of their prep careers.

Fast forward three years and you'd be hard-pressed to find one without the other.

After graduation from high school, both went on to play football at Hinds Community College - a junior college in Raymond, Mississippi, located just outside the state capital of Jackson. Shortly thereafter, they formed an impenetrable bond.

When the coaches needed Armstrong, they tracked down Thompson.

And if they couldn't locate Thompson? Somebody call Adonis. I need to speak with Godfrey.

"We became best friends," Thompson said - a statement verified by Armstrong as the latter nodded his head in agreement.

East Carolina Defensive Coordinator and Secondary Coach Brian Mitchell made the trek to Hinds to recruit Armstrong and Thompson.

Mitchell liked what he saw.

A 5-foot-10, 180-pound cornerback, Armstrong served as a defensive captain during his sophomore campaign in Raymond and ranked among the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) leaders in several defensive categories, including interceptions (eight), pass breakups (14), interception return yards (197) and interception returns for touchdowns (two). He collected 45 tackles - two for lost yardage - and a sack while also offering the Eagles a threat in the special teams department as he returned seven punts for 60 yards.

Armstrong was awarded a Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) All-State Second-Team selection for his performance in 2011.

Thompson was an imposing presence behind the linebackers as the 6-foot, 205-pound hard-hitting strong safety made his mark during a two-year stint at Hinds with 113 career stops. He also bolstered the defense against aerial attacks, breaking-up eight passes and hauling in three interceptions in 2011 alone.



Thompson's standout career earned him back-to-back MACJC All-State Honorable Mention accolades.

The pair of stalwarts combined to lead the Eagles to the 2011 MACJC playoffs for the first time since 2004. HCC suffered a setback in the divisional title game, but finished the campaign ranked 15th in the final NJCAA poll.

Ultimately, both players were offered scholarships and elected to continue their careers as student-athletes in Greenville, N.C.

Senior outside linebacker Chris Baker, who played at Hinds with Armstrong and Thompson during the 2010 season, was vocal in his desire to land both recruits.

"Chris was kind of my inside man," Thompson said. "I liked everything he told me and that pushed me over the top. Adonis decided to come with me and knowing I'd have my best friend here made it perfect."

Incidentally, fellow defensive back Kristopher Sykes also played junior college ball at Hinds.

Armstrong and Thompson - who moved into an apartment together upon their arrival - enrolled in January and immediately provide third-year head coach Ruffin McNeill realistic candidates to replenish a depleted secondary.

McNeill said he is looking forward to tracking the development of both players and their impact on the squad in 2012.

"We had to address that area and we did that by signing Adonis and Godfrey," he said. "They're very talented individuals. We expect them to provide additional depth and contribute immediately."

A year ago, East Carolina featured one of the nation's most improved defenses following a shift to a 3-4 scheme.

The Pirates return seven starters from last year's personnel that gave up an average of 376.3 yards per game after the 2010 version surrendered over 475.

Perhaps the most significant turnaround from 2010 to 2011 was the dramatic improvement stifling opponents' passing attacks.

The secondary yielded 202.1 passing yards per game a year ago - a clip which ranked second in Conference USA. Additionally, the unit held opponents under 200 aerial yards in eight of 12 tilts while foes amassed over 300 in just a pair of contests.

However, the coaching staff is faced with replacing a trio of starters from that group - cornerbacks Derek Blacknall and Emanuel Davis, and strong safety Bradley Jacobs.

Damon Magazu is the only returning starter outside of the front seven. The junior free safety was one of the top playmakers on ECU's revamped unit as he ranked among the league leaders in interceptions (four) and fumble recoveries (three).

Armstrong seeks to complement senior cornerbacks Leonard Paulk and Jacobi Jenkins, who have experienced increased roles in a similar role this spring.

Sophomore Lamar Ivey - Jacobs' top backup in 2011 - and Thompson are tentatively listed as the top strong safeties heading into 2012.

Additionally, McNeill has indicated Armstrong and Thompson could experience action on special teams as potential kick and punt returners.

When asked if he felt any added pressure as a newcomer with lofty expectations, Armstrong didn't budge.

"The expectations I have for myself are higher than anybody could put on me," he said. "I'm confident in my abilities and I know Godfrey is confident in his. We want to be a part of this team and get back to winning championships, that's it."

If the success enjoyed by Armstrong and Thompson as junior college teammates is duplicated during their time as members of the Purple and Gold, question marks surrounding the secondary will be erased.